April 20 is Weed Day around the world: Will it ever be legal in the Czech Republic?

Efforts to legalize recreational use of marijuana are likely to heat up again if the Pirates win the October elections.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 20.04.2021 14:09 (updated on 21.04.2021)

Today is 4/20, which has become an international day to celebrate cannabis. While the Czech Republic ranks as one of the most liberal countries when it comes to cannabis, recreational use remains illegal though possession of small amounts has been decriminalized since 2010. Medical use, though, has been on the rise. Efforts to legalize cannabis are likely to heat up again if the Pirates do well in the coming general elections later this year.

Some 52 percent of people in the Czech Republic favor legalizing marijuana and 54 percent have tried it, according to an October 2020 poll by daily Pražský deník. Oddly, just 66 percent of those who have tried it and 35 percent of those who have not tried it favored legalization.

Government figures are a bit lower. Some 9 to 11 percent of adults used marijuana at some time in 2019, the government’s annual report on drugs in the Czech Republic, released in November 2020, stated. The State Health Institute added that 26 to 39 percent of adults have tried hemp substances at some time in their lives, while experience with other illegal drugs is less frequent. "The level of illegal drug use is about twice to three times higher among young people aged 15-34 years and among men," the State Health Institute said.

Currently, possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is a civil, not a criminal offense. There is a widespread misconception that having a small amount is legal, but people can still get a fine of up CZK 15,000 for possession. There are criminal penalties for selling marijuana, and these go from a two-year minimum to 18 years.

Do you think that the sale of marijuana or cannabis for recreational use should be made legal in the Czech Republic?

Yes 90 %
No 10 %
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The lower house of Parliament, the Chamber of Deputies, rejected a proposal at the end of January that would have allowed people to possess up to 1.25 kilograms of dried cannabis at home without any sanction, and to carry up to 30 grams outside of their flat. They could legally pass 30 grams to another adult, but solely for free. The proposal by the far-right Freedom and Direct Democracy (SPD) movement was backed by the Pirates. It failed to get past the initial stages and was rejected by 55 out of the 89 deputies present.

Pirate deputy Tomáš Vymazal stressed that this could prevent decriminalization of the people who have no criminal record.

"Cannabis is very popular in the Czech Republic. According to various studies, more than every fourth teenager and as many as two out of five adults have some experience with it," Vymazal said at the time.

Then-Health Minister Jan Blatný warned that the amendment conflicted with international law and drug addiction policy. "It carries large social and health risks," Blatnný  said, adding that it could also lead to drug tourism.

The topic is sure to come up again, as the legalization of cannabis is a strong point in the political platform of the Pirates, who in a coalition with Mayors and Independents (STAN) are leading in the polls to win the most votes in the Oct. 8–9 general elections.

Banner saying marijuana is medicine at the 2020 Million Marihuana March. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)
Banner saying cannabis is medicine at the 2020 Million Marihuana March. (Photo: Raymond Johnston)

Advocates of legalization organize the annual Million Marihuana March in Prague, which usually takes place in May but last year was in September due to Covid restrictions. So far, there is no information on when the event will take place in 2021.

But there are people who urge caution. National anti-drug coordinator Jarmila Vedralová said at an online conference on psychoactive drugs in October that the Czech Republic has approximately 100,000 problematic users of cannabis, which is similar to the both the number of people who drink too much daily and the number of people are addicted to gambling. She added that the use of psychoactive drugs had increased during the pandemic for people who were already heavy uses, but had dropped for occasional and recreational users.

Not only possession and sale can result in penalties. Just last week on April 13, a court imposed a year-long suspended sentence on Emerich Drtina, the director publishing house Naše vojsko, for the distribution of the book of cannabis meal recipes, along with a four-year ban on working in the house's statutory bodies and a fine of CZK 100,000. He was convicted of drug addiction promotion for the same book earlier already, but did not stop distributing it, hence the new verdict. Drtina plans to appeal, claiming it was impossible to recall the book once it had gone out.

Large increase in medical marijuana use

The situation for medical cannabis is quite different. The amount of medical cannabis prescribed in the Czech Republic has increased due to changes in legislation that allow for health insurance to cover 90 percent of the cost. In 2020, patients received 66.8 kilograms of medical marijuana, while in 2019 the figure was just 17 kilograms, according to data from the State Agency for Medical Cannabis (SAKL).

In December 2020 there were 1,103 people using medical cannabis, compared to 434 patients a the end of 2019. The number of doctors who prescribed cannabis also increased to 123 at the end of 2020 from 78 a year earlier. During 2020, they prescribed cannabis 14,167 times, an average of about 1,181 per month, while in 2019 they issued 4,145 prescriptions, or about 345 prescriptions per month.

Therapeutic cannabis is used by patients, among other things, to relieve pain in cancer or arthritis, as well as people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease or AIDS.

Czech law has allowed prescribing medical cannabis since 2013. At first there was no legal supplier, so it did not become available until two years later. Initially, it was only available from abroad, and according to patients it was too expensive. Since then, the law has been changed to allow for legal growers in the Czech Republic.

Cannabis leaf.
Cannabis leaf. (photo: Pixabay, TinaKru)

The origin of 420 as a code for marijuana apparently dates to 1971, when a group of high school students in California would meet by a statue of the Louis Pasteur initially as part of plan to search for a lost patch of wild cannabis. It later evolved into a code word for consuming the drug. The number is also the international dialing code for the Czech Republic.